Rainbow and same-sex families: why community support and belonging is important

When you feel supported as a parent and feel that you belong in your neighbourhood and community, your children do better socially, emotionally and behaviourally. That’s because you can manage the challenges of parenting better than if you feel isolated and alone.

It works the other way too. If you feel that you don’t belong, you can feel socially isolated. This can be bad for your mental health, which can affect your ability to be the parent you want to be.

Parents in rainbow and same-sex families are like all parents. When they have support and feel that they belong in their communities, they can parent more effectively and their children do better.

Your age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or biological relationship to your children doesn’t affect your ability to parent effectively. It’s what you do that matters to your children.

Parents in rainbow and same-sex families: discrimination

Parents in rainbow and same-sex families can experience discrimination. This might leave them feeling isolated at times and like they don’t belong.

Discrimination can be obvious, like violence or threats. It can also be subtle, like teachers not letting a child talk about his family experiences, or service providers asking inappropriate questions about family formation or parenting arrangements.

Discrimination can also come from policies, procedures or services that unfairly exclude rainbow or same-sex families and their children.

Supporting and including rainbow and same-sex families: what you can do

Social and emotional support from friends and family is one of the most important ways that all parents and families get a sense of belonging. Parents and families also feel that they belong when they’re part of a supportive neighbourhood network or can get involved in the community – for example, by volunteering.

You can support rainbow and same-sex families in your neighbourhood by including them in these and other ways, and by speaking up if someone expresses views that discriminate against diverse families. Here are some ideas.

Being aware of what you say
Using language that’s respectful of difference, inclusive and non-judgmental can help rainbow and same-sex families feel welcome.

You can help by being aware of what you say. For example:

  • Ask if you’re not sure what language to use. For example, ‘What names or terms do you use for your family members?’.
  • Use neutral language, if you’re not sure what to say. For example, you might ask a child, ‘Where are your parents?’, rather than ‘Where are your mum and dad?’.
  • Be respectful and inclusive in what you say. For example, ‘I think it’s great that our community has so many different types of families. We can all learn from each other’.
  • Be sensitive when asking other parents questions about their families. If there’s a chance they might be offended by the question, don’t ask it.

Challenging unhelpful attitudes
If you challenge unhelpful assumptions and attitudes, it can help rainbow and same-sex families feel supported and included.

For example:

  • Speak up if someone expresses views that are homophobic, that stereotype people, or that discriminate against diverse families in other ways. You could say, ‘ I feel those comments are unfair’, or ‘I’m sorry but I don’t agree with that’.
  • Challenge people if they suggest that one type of family is better, or more ‘normal’ than another. You could say, ‘Actually, it’s what parents do that really matters to children’.
  • Give services, community groups or schools feedback if you see ways they could be more inclusive. For example, you could suggest your child’s preschool changes a form so that it says ‘parent’ instead of mother or father, or you could suggest books for the school library that are inclusive of diverse families.

Talking with your child
Talking with your child about rainbow and same-sex families can help your child be aware of diverse families.

For example:

  • Talk about different kinds of families and parents. You could say, ‘Families come in all shapes and sizes. Some children have a mum and a dad, some just have a mum or a dad, and some have two mums or two dads’.
  • Ask your child whether she has any friends with rainbow or same-sex families.
  • Talk about why people might tease or bully children from rainbow or same-sex families.

Sharing information
You can help rainbow and same-sex families feel like they belong by letting them know what’s available in your area. For example, you can:

Parents and children in rainbow and same-sex parent families can also get a sense of belonging by making connections with other diverse families.